Middle East Monitor / May 19, 2023
The fragility of a position is sometimes exposed when there is an exaggeration of self-confidence and an attempt to demonstrate control over the situation. This is the impression given by the march of Israeli settlers and extremists, who paraded through the Old City of Jerusalem on Thursday, 18 May 2023, waving their flags and chanting extreme right-wing slogans, backed by Occupation forces and directly sponsored by the Israeli government.
The goal of the annual “Flag March” is to appear as a significant event, suggesting power and control, but it reveals the Occupation’s dilemma in Jerusalem each year. The Occupation authority mobilized a crowd of settlers on this day with armed support and deployed thousands of its forces for this purpose, reaching 3,300 members, according to official announcements. Meanwhile, Palestinian residents of Jerusalem continue to demonstrate throughout the year, despite the armed Israeli force directed against them, and the relentless campaigns of persecution, intimidation, arrest and killing.
In other words, the ceremonial marches sponsored by the Israeli government and Occupation authorities do not reflect the real situation in Jerusalem or its cultural identity; rather, they indicate the Occupation’s assault, its fabricated arrogance and its lack of self-confidence. Why does a government resort to all this fabrication, accompanied by security mobilization and the exclusion of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem from the scene, if it is truly confident in the legitimacy of its existence and the stability of its control over its alleged “unified capital”?
The reality is that the identity of Jerusalem remains clearly Arab Palestinian, despite more than half a century of settlement expansion, the restriction of life for Palestinian citizens in East Jerusalem and the exaggeration in distorting its scene and heavy raising of Israeli flags on confiscated buildings. The showcase reaches its peak when the Occupation authorities resort to visual tricks on some occasions by projecting blue and white lights onto the historical walls of Jerusalem to paint them with an Israeli visual identity. However, this trick, among others, fails the next day to conceal the Arab Palestinian nature of the city, which is a vibrant and visible nature, inside and outside the walls, intertwined with Islam and Christianity, and does not require sophisticated techniques to demonstrate it.
The Israeli “Flag March” is merely an intended showcase of Occupation power, which mobilizes a crowd saturated with naive mythical slogans. Upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the audience of the “Flag March” primarily consists of extremist settlers who have been attracted to live in settlements illegally established under international law on land stolen from its Palestinian owners. Fascist expressions among these individuals are clearly escalating, such as the raising of the flag of the fascist “Kahane Chai” movement – classified as a terrorist on American and European lists – during the march on 18 May, 2023. In these flag marches, it is common to hear chants such as “Mavit le Aravim“, which means “Death to the Arabs! [Palestinians]” This racist chant is sometimes altered to “Mavit le Hablanim“, which means “Death to Terrorists!” and this does not need much intelligence to conclude that they allude to the “Arabs” as well, the Palestinian people, in particular, as these racist discourses deny its existence in the first place.
This fascist situation enjoys a clear official sponsorship, to the extent that the march on 18 May, 2023 was distinguished by the participation of several ministers in the Israeli government, who represent its most extreme figures: Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, as they represent an explicit fascist approach that has become dominant in Israeli political life due to existing electoral balances. The influence of these figures is likely to increase in the upcoming ballot rounds, due to internal demographic reasons and others related to their increasing influence in state institutions and authorities. Minister Israel Katz also participated in the march; he is known for his policies of encouraging settlement and offering attractive facilities to settlers through the multiple ministries he has headed, so far. He is one of the advocates for the annexation of the West Bank and has caused crises with European governments when he made derogatory remarks about the Belgian and Polish people.
The “Flag March” represents an attempt to occupy Jerusalem morally, after it was militarily occupied by the army, a goal also sought by Israeli propaganda through justifying the Occupation with myths, as applied in short films and promotional videos dedicated to denying the Arab Palestinian, and Islamic-Christian identity of the city.
The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has often released short promotional clips of this kind to justify the Occupation of Jerusalem, in an attempt to impose its naive narrative. One of these clips, for example, depicts a young and charming Israeli family, in a theatrical manner that imitates Hollywood family comedy, living in a small new apartment symbolizing the concept of “the small state that they begrudge us”. Soon, groups of people, followed by other groups, start knocking at the door claiming their ownership of the apartment, and then the Arabs come as the last of these groups, of course, accompanied by derogatory insinuations towards them, and there is no mention of Palestinians at all.
The global audience is expected to enjoy their time with the art of deception filled with effects, without attempting to engage their minds with questions like: Why did not they depict the reality that does not need acting, for example, by showing the suffering of an old Palestinian family in the place where settlers coming from the United States, their heads filled with historical myths and their pockets with generous money, knock on their door?!
Israeli propaganda invests vast amounts of money in this field, but deception does not win in the end, especially in the age of imagery, networked experience and live broadcasting. More authentic scenes come from within Jerusalem, conveyed by smartphones to the world, and these visual facts are capable of shaking the naive propaganda of the Occupation to its core.
The “Flag March” draws attention to the fact that the Israeli flag is raised in Jerusalem by force of arms, the power of oppression and policies of persecution imposed on the city’s residents. Meanwhile, the Occupation forces thwart any attempt to raise the Palestinian flag, as seen during the march. The fear of the Occupation authorities does not stop at the Palestinian flag; it extends to the prohibition of cultural and civil activities and other aspects of daily life. This was evident when the Occupation forces brutally attacked the funeral procession of the renowned journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, in Jerusalem, who was killed by Israeli soldiers on 11 May, 2022, while she was covering the news. The Occupation’s fear of the emergence of the real Palestinian scene from this city to the world led it to chase the journalist’s coffin, which was carried by the people of Jerusalem after leaving the church. The coffin was about to fall down despite representatives of Western diplomatic missions were attending the funeral ceremony.
It is common to see scenes of assault, abuse and pursuit against Palestinians in the neighbourhoods of Jerusalem, and even at religious events and holy places. For example, the Occupation forces attacked worshippers, including women, children, and Christian clergy who were on their way to the Church of the Resurrection to celebrate Holy Saturday before Easter on 15 April, 2023, while their attacks on worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque continued during the month of Ramadan, which coincided with it.
The notion of “We are here”, which the “Flag March” seeks to express, appears in reality to be evidence of the Israeli incapacity in Jerusalem. This march, coming 56 years after the Occupation of East Jerusalem, remains contingent on imposing extraordinary coercive measures that escalate, year after year, to paralyze daily life in the city. The aim of this is simply to distract the Palestinian citizens from the scene. During the march on 18 May, 2023, Occupation forces assaulted Palestinian citizens near Damascus Gate, one of the main gates of historic Jerusalem, and tormented them within the Old City, forcing them to disappear from the area to preserve the pure Israeli propaganda scene. This remains a “routine procedure”, in any case. Settlers and extremists demonstrated provocative behaviour during their movement, accompanied by Occupation forces in the alleys of Jerusalem, and clashed with any Palestinians they encountered at doors and windows. Occupation forces intervened to suppress Palestinians in favour of their audience whenever a brawl broke out along the way. The march attempted to display extreme self-confidence, but the reality of the false fabrication was exposed whenever a small Palestinian flag appeared in its path or was raised in the air by a balloon launched by a Jerusalemite child. Occupation forces rushed to stifle these signs of life, through which the persecuted residents of Jerusalem affirm: “We are here.”
The “Flag March” attempted to depict a fabricated epic image, while Palestinians continue to cling to their city and residential neighbourhoods, threatened with forced eviction. The world has witnessed this in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood or in the marginalized Khan Al-Ahmar village, deprived of basic life necessities. In contrast, these settler crowds came to Jerusalem only under the official patronage of an Occupation regime that grants them generous economic privileges, stringent security protection and weapons that they carry day and night. The hope is that these generations will come to the city and the Occupied West Bank and settle there, contrary to international law.
What is the significance behind ceremonial marches that require no sacrifices, marches that are carried out by a settler and extremist audience with dense and exceptional support from the Occupation forces? During these marches, they conduct arrests, oppressive measures and strict restrictions against the people of Jerusalem, in order to fabricate the false scene they desire. Only the Palestinians in Jerusalem continue the public epic for many decades, facing continuous retaliation from the Occupation forces, and paying the price for that through their freedom and lives. There is an authentic flag march in Jerusalem that deserves the support of the whole world. It is the public epic that the unarmed Palestinian Jerusalemites are waging under Occupation, demanding freedom, rights and justice, despite the sacrifices and risks they face.
Hossam Shaker is a journalist and an author who has extensively covered the topic of migration in Europe